To illustrate findings from the recently released Americans for the Arts study Arts & Economic Prosperity in the State of Connecticut IV: The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Cultural Organizations and Their Audiences, Randy Cohen told a measurable version of a memorable tale.   “It was two weeks until Date Night,” his story began.  Then he took about 50 arts leaders gathered at the Palace Theater in Waterbury on December 7th through a path of decisionmaking that links cultural performances with a host of other categories of economic activity.

inside New Haven's Shubert Theater

inside New Haven’s Shubert Theater

First, by virtue of on-line ticket buying, the arts clearly tap skills from the technology sector in presenting and maintaining their websites.

Next, e-commerce interfaces with the banking industry.

Before Date Night, the gas tank might get filled up, benefitting a local convenience store.

On Date Night, before the show, a couple might go out to eat.  The chosen restaurant might feature local produce, benefitting area growers and the whole chain of entrepreneurs who bring food to the table.

Another ten bucks might go to a local parking garage.

At the theater, the couple may have a glass of wine, or a cup of tea.  Caterers benefit from this type of activity.  Local wines or teas might even be featured.

The theater building itself requires tradespeople in order to fulfill its function.  Plumbers, electricians and painters may be involved, as well as more specialized restorers and historic preservationists.

Ushers pass out programs, evidence that still others are being employed: designers, printers, paper/ink suppliers and deliverypeople.

Of course the show highlights the acting emsemble, its director and crew.  However, it is important to note that before the curtain ever rises, the arts organization presenting the performance is generating positive economic impact in its community.   How much, exactly?  Well, here are some conservative figures (all based on actual reported data, nothing projected) gathered from 337 arts organizations across Connecticut in 2010, using an input/output analysis model customized for local conditions and administered by a team from the School of Economics at Georgia Tech.

  • Nonprofit arts organizations and their audiences spent a total of 653 million dollars.  Audience spending accounts for $198 million; the rest is spent by the organizations themselves.
  • Arts organizations supported 18,314 Full-Time Equivalent jobs in Connecticut.  Because of the high touch, hands on, face-to-face nature of the industry, these jobs are necessarily local, unshippable overseas.
  • Arts spending triggered $59 million in local and state government revenue.
  • 12% of arts attenders came from outside the state.  For 67% of those individuals, the reason for coming to Connecticut was specifically to attend a particular cultural event.
  • 33,379 volunteers contributed 1.1 million manhours, calcluated at a rate of $21.36/hr to represent a $24 million value.

Nationally, the nonprofit arts sector is a $135 billion industry and supports 4.1 million jobs.  $5 billion is invested annually, triggering $21 billion in government revenue.  That is a huge positive return on investment.

Who has bought into this methodology and its results?  National organizations including the Business Civic Leadership Center (U.S. Chamber of Commerce); the National Conference of State Legislators; National League of Cities; the United States Conference of Mayors; the International Association of Destination Marketing; and Grantmakers in the Arts all have their logos on this publication.  The study – conducted nationally and released in state-specific segments based on customized models for local data gathering – repeats every five years.

The bottom line is a strong message to those who govern states and municipalities in the U.S.   Funding for Date Night is no black hole.

The bonus for cities?…Workers in today’s knowledge economy are choosing to work where they live, and creativity ranks as one of the top five skills sought-after by today’s business leaders.  This means that only cool places attract professional people, and when it comes to overall economic health, it’s the most creative, culturally vibrant communities that can deliver the goods.